The Pyongyang Summit

The leaders of the two Korean states shook hands to the cheers of thousands in Pyongyang today. The historic summit, only the second in a half-century of hostility, hopes to bridge the gulf between Koreans separated by a DMZ, and to staunch the bleeding from the catastrophic economic collapse in the North. Whether it leads to any real progress may have more to do with disarmament talks taking place elsewhere:

As hundreds of thousands of North Koreans cheered and waved pink paper flowers, leaders of the two Koreas shook hands at the start of a summit that is expected to inject large amounts of money from the booming capitalist South into the struggling Stalinist North.
The reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jung Il, dressed in the gray military-style jumpsuit he wears to meet the world’s television cameras, looked dour as he walked with the smiling South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun.
They met on a red carpet in front of a performing arts hall in the North Korean capital Pyongyang, where substantive talks in the three-day summit are expected to start on Wednesday.
The atmospherics of this summit, only the second such meeting in the more than half a century since the North and South fought an all-out war, seemed rather cooler than in the first summit in 2000.

Kim Jong-Il seemed happier at the previous summit, Blaine Harden reports, but there may be a reason for that beyond diplomatic tensions. The South Koreans paid Kim $186 million for that 2000 summit meeting, which caused a political scandal when it came to light in Seoul. This time, the government had to pledge that it would not pay for the summit, which undoubtedly explains Dear Leader’s sour expression, at least in part.
Seoul expects to make some economic deals on this trip that will benefit both countries. They want to create a free-trade zone with Pyongyang, a move that would only benefit the DPRK financially. However, Kim has to worry about the liberating effects of free trade, which relies on at least some capitalist structure. The South will want to compete on an equal basis, which will mean less slave labor. The increased contacts between the two nations will also create a much larger sense of injustice among Kim’s restive population — and it could lead to a huge exodus if the DMZ gets dismantled.
Kim wants a reunification, but on his terms. Roh, weak at home and his party almost certain to lose big in the next elections, wants normalized relations. Both men seek Holy Grails that are not only completely unrealistic but mutually incompatible. The best either can hope to do is exchange some money and have an impact on public opinion in their opponents’ back yards. The real action is taking place in the six-party disarmament talks, where Kim hopes to get the US off of his back for good. Until the nuclear issue gets resolved, this amounts to a side show, and both leaders know it.

17 thoughts on “The Pyongyang Summit”

  1. From Team America: World Police:
    Kim Jong-Il:
    “I’m So Ronery
    So ronery
    So ronery and sadry arone
    There’s no one
    Just me onry
    Sitting on my rittle throne
    I work rearry hard and make up great prans
    But nobody ristens, no one understands
    Seems like no one takes me serirousry
    And so I’m ronery
    A rittle ronery
    Poor rittle me
    There’s nobody
    I can rerate to
    Feel rike a bird in a cage
    It’s kinda sihry
    But not rearry
    Because it’s fihring my body with rage
    I’m the smartest most crever most physicarry fit
    But nobody else seems to rearize it
    When I change the world maybe they’ll notice me
    But until then I’rr just be ronery
    Rittle ronery, poor rittle me
    I’m so ronery”
    ‘Nuff said.

  2. I just read somewhere that 1 in 4 Germans want the Wall back. I’m not sure if that was all Germans or just the ones who live in the part formerly known as West Germany. Apparently the East German part is a drag on the economy despites millions and millions of dollars being pumped into that part of the country.
    I can’t even imagine what reunification between North and South Korea would look like. It sounds great, from a sort of sentimental Kumbaya standpoint (families being able to see each other again and so on) and presumably the North Koreans wouldn’t starve in massive numbers anymore, but I’m not so sure that a reunified Korea under the present circumstances would be all that great for South Korea at least in the short and medium runs.
    Sometimes the sum is not greater than the parts.

  3. Bennet,
    South Korea has 20 times the GNP of North Korea, whereas West Germany had 2-3 times.(I read this some time back, but can’t remember the source) Re-unification would be very costly to South Koreans, and why some may prefer the current status quo.
    Bill

  4. The South Koreans and Chinese don’t want the Kim Jong-Il regime to collapse for exactly the reasons you state, Bennett. They fear a flood of starving North Korean refugees would drag down their economies for decades.
    While acknowledging that the end of the North Korean regime would burden South Korea and China, I find this view highly cynical, selfish, and inhumane. Short of out-and-out war, getting rid of the North Korean regime would be well worth the economic price.

  5. “I find this view highly cynical, selfish, and inhumane.”
    This is, of course, easy for someone to say who won’t actually have to bear any of the reunification burden. While it may seem more “humane” to spread the present suffering endured by the North Koreans to their brothers and sisters in South Korea, I find it otherwise.
    There is absolutely nothing to support that notion that reunification will lead to a better Korea. Attaching a mortally sick limb onto a healthy body could just as easily lead to more widespread incurable infection.
    There is another solution to North Korea’s problems. Reconstitution and revitalization within that society BEFORE reunification would seem to create more optimal circumstances for a better longterm result.
    Pie in the sky is awfully hard to eat.

  6. “Reconstitution and revitalization within that society BEFORE reunification would seem to create more optimal circumstances for a better longterm result.”
    Bill Clinton and Madeline Albright tried your approach, Bennett, and it failed miserably. That’s because the North Koren regime is a kleptocracy that has enslaved its people, and diverts all foreign aid to its military and its elites.
    The concentration camp the North Koreans created for their people is so large that it can be seen from the moon!
    You’re an enabler, Bennett, in the mold of Clinton and Albright. Too bad the Chinese and the South Koreans are the same. The South Koreans are the most culpable in all of this, because it is their brothers and sisters in the north who suffer under monstrous communist oppression.

  7. Oh, and as for the personal slight, Bennett, do you doubt that America would pitch in if North Korea were liberated from its communist oppressors? My uncle fought in the Korean War (front-line combat), and he wasn’t acting out of selfish motives. You do ill to impugn my motives, and those of our Korean veterans.

  8. “You do ill to impugn my motives, and those of our Korean veterans.”
    Huh? My father fought in WW II, my brother fought in Vietnam, my brother-in-law fought in Iraq. What is this, let’s compare family military resumes and see who comes out ahead?
    I don’t even know you, how could you take my comments personally? You are not Korean (presumably)and neither am I. We don’t have to deal with the consequences of a premature reunification. South Koreans who actually live on the peninsula would have to deal with it.

  9. “We don’t have to deal with the consequences of a premature reunification. South Koreans who actually live on the peninsula would have to deal with it.”
    The first effort at “premature reunification” was when North Korea attacked South Korea with conventional military forces armed and supplied by the Soviet Union and Communist China during the Truman Administration. The U.S. “dealt” with the invasion by getting a U.N. resolution condemning the invasion, and committing its own armed forces to defend South Korea, together with its allies.
    So although I grant your premise that we don’t “have” to deal with the consequences of “premature reunification” of the Koreas, I respectfully suggest that we already have, with our blood and treasure. The result was the Korean War. Technically, we’re still at war with North Korea. Our armed forces still are in harm’s way. If North Korea disappeared peacefully through internal collapse, we would deal with it humanely.
    In the long run, a Korea re-united as a democratic nation is in everyone’s interests, the cynicism of the South Koreans notwithstanding.
    Oh, and Bennett, in addition to Korea, I have family who fought in the American Revolution, War of 1812, Civil War (Union), World War I, World War II, and Iraq War. Can you top that? 😉

  10. “In the long run, a Korea re-united as a democratic nation is in everyone’s interests, the cynicism of the South Koreans notwithstanding.”
    This is an ideal. Again, you produce no evidence that this would be the result. I am simply positing that the reverse might actually end up being the case if the two halves are simply slammed together because it will make those in the West feel good.
    And I have family who fought with Hannibal in the Battle of Zama at Carthage, warred with the Maccabees against Antiochus, stood with Constantine at the Battle of Milvian Bridge and lead regiments under King Pelayo in the fight for La Reconquista, the war to recapture the Iberian Peninsula and drive out the invading Moors.
    Can you top that?

  11. Thank you Bennett and quickjustice for an
    exchange that was intelligent as well as funny. I had an ancestor, by the way, who fought in the
    final battle between homo sapiens and the
    Neanderthals, about 30,000 BC, fortunately on the
    winning side….

  12. Geez! Korea is ONE stinking country! That “division” is a farce. Created for truman by Dean Rusk. But you can’t change the facts on the ground: ONE FAMILY!
    And, isolated at that!
    A very long time ago, the koreans did climb over the mountain top, and reach China. They took over the throne in some dynasty. Or other. And, then? They became more Chinese than the Chinese! Adapting. While the Chinese never did. Hated the guts of ALL the hermit kingdom’s people. PERIOD.
    It’s also a meaningless peninsula, according to MacArthur. Who said it wasn’t worth a fiddler’s fart. (To the UN, however, it began “stalemate.” It led to the phony ascension of stalin’s bastard. And, yes. It even had “fruits” in the Cold War.
    We should be growing old and tired of this crap.
    While the koreans, at the DMZ have laid down about 3 miles worth of landmines. Not exactly the type of terrain that will lead to “unification,” whatever that means.
    Anyhoo. There are some pretty sick and dysfunctional families out there. Some? Well, some are rich. While their relatives are poor.
    And, when the dead guy is the one who had control of the wealth, you see lots of lawyers (and grieving, ha ha) family members climbing out of the woodwork, looking for their “share.”
    Well, no one lives forever. That’s why lawyers design estates; so that it’s considered “progress” when they’re dipping their hands in, to divvy up what “remains.”
    You want respect? Not part of this process.
    You want the koreans to become some other tribe of people? Dream on.

  13. Both men seek Holy Grails that are not only completely unrealistic but mutually incompatible.
    Both N and S Koreans might want to try a tactic that has stood the Middle East well for decades: blame it all on the Jews and a Zionist conspiracy.
    Failing that, the situation they find themselves in is obviously all Bush’s fault, and America is a Great Satan and responsible for anything bad that has happened to them, or is likely to happen in the foreseeable future.

  14. Bennett and quickjustice:
    Demonstrating why this is my favorite blog.
    Carol Herman:
    That would be Dean Acheson.
    Bennett and Masochist:
    The 20-1 ratio might actually help the reunification, since the aid would be so basic to start with. One big problem, IMO, would be what to do with the Nork’s large standing army.
    BTW, one of my ancestors helped overcome the last hold-out dinosaurs after the asteroid hit 64 million years ago. Aw rats! The Captain beat me to it.

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